A Day in the Life: The Lewis & Clark Expedition 207 years ago today.

“A Day in the Life” is a phrase we’re all familiar with. Whether it’s in the context of the famous Beatles song, the photojournalism project that documented life in a particular continent, country or city during one day, or the classic Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (not quite a match but too good not to reference), the phrase “a day in the life” can tell us much about an individual, a community, a people, a country, and more. To learn about them and what happened on that “day” in that “life,” we depend on the letters, diaries, photos, newspapers, and other sources that chronicle them. Without them our historical memory, our heritage, would be largely blank.

Meriwether Lewis by Charles Willson Peale, 1807. Courtesy Independence National Historical Park.

Using “A Day in the Life” as the premise for this inaugural Filson blog series, dated diary entries, letters, photographs, and other material will be featured that offer a view to the life of an individual, a community, a state, a country, or the world on a particular date. Newspaper features such as “Looking Back” or “On This Date” list events that occurred on a particular date. “A Day in the Life” might do that also, but the reader will get them in the words of the people recording the events, as well as their feelings and other information; and in the case of photos, a scene or event frozen in time.  It is particularly appropriate to initiate this occasional feature in October – American Archives Month. The written and visual records preserved in archives are absolutely essential in documenting our past.

Jonathan Clark's diary entry written on October 26th 1803 noting the departure of the Lewis & Clark expedition from the Falls of the Ohio.

William Clark by Charles Willson Peale, 1807. Courtesy Independence National Historical Park.

October 26, 1803, is the 207th anniversary of Lewis and Clark and the nucleus of the Corps of Discovery setting off from the Falls of the Ohio on their three year journey across the American West to the Pacific Ocean. This “Day in the Life” was significant not only for the participants and their families but ultimately for the nation. Described as the most famous exploring venture in the history of the United States, the Lewis and Clark Expedition succeeded in its mission (for more information go to www.lewisandclarkinkentucky.org and www.lewisandclark.org as well as other websites and sources). What the future held no one really knew that day. Only a couple of known sources provide information. One of them is the diary of Jonathan Clark.  The oldest of the ten Clark siblings, Jonathan kept a diary for forty-one years, perhaps because he was a man of few words – weather and where he slept that night are constants; but if something of particular note occurred Jonathan recorded it – and on October 26, 1803, he wrote:

“Rain at Louisville at Clarksville. Capt. Lewis and Capt. Wm. Clark set of[f] on a western tour. went in their boat to Mr. Temples  lay Do.”

That day was quite "a day in the life" of the Clarks, Lewis, the members of the expedition, and the country.

James J. Holmberg

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